Sunday, January 31, 2010

falling in love with EZ

Isn't it wonderful to make a new friend?

The giddy early days of a new friendship are so much like a new love. The curiosity, the thrill at each new little discovery (she likes recycling, too!), the days on end spent in each other's company, missing them when they have other plans, wondering if you're becoming a bit of a stalker (but not really caring)...

Sometimes when I pine for dear old friends, I think fondly of the early days and sigh and wonder if I'll ever feel that way about someone again. But of course, you never know when love will strike.

The infatuation of new friendship seems to have struck me again, out of the blue. I was sitting at home, minding my own business, thumbing through the Knit Picks catalog and noticed that they had a huge sale on books (40% off through Feb 22). I had to order just a tiny bit of yarn for a project, and decided while I was at it to pick up a copy of The Opinionated Knitter, the collection of Elizabeth Zimmerman's newsletters from 1958-1968.

Thus, a beautiful new friendship was born. Well, okay maybe you can't call it a friendship since she passed in 1999 and all I get to do is read her books and knit her designs, but still, I really feel as if I've made a new friend. I love her voice, that sparkly, slightly prickly but loving personality that shines through on every page. I love her down-to-earth, empowering approach to knitting. I love that there are photos of her family and friends on nearly every page. I really do feel as if I'm getting to know this remarkable woman, to admire her and probably emulate her, just as I have done with a handful of very dear female friends over the years.

I can't believe I've knitted more than ten years now without her. This is a bit like when I read all those Willa Cather novels last summer, and realized that I had been thinking of myself as a reader of American literature, when without Willa I'd hardly known a thing about it. Without Elizabeth, I haven't been much of a knitter.

Despite the short stack of half-finished projects (all birthday presents!!) staring reproachfully at me from the knitting basket, I am really itching to knit some great big wooly Scandinavian Ski sweaters. And don't get me started on the Baby Surprise Jacket - it's time, it's time. I already know that reading EZ is going to change my approach to design and especially to pattern-writing, much for the better I hope.

Ah, new love! It's like a breath of spring on this chilly, clear winter morning.

Do I sound totally infatuated??

Saturday, January 23, 2010

on the importance of felting a swatch

oh, sh#$t!
fez or propeller beanie?

This week I learned a painful but important knitting lesson: felt a swatch!

If you're going to felt a new yarn, or a yarn other than the pattern calls for, save yourself the agony and knit up a little swatch & felt it first. How long does it really take to knit a gauge swatch and then felt it? How many years of felting have I managed to get through so recklessly?

It's true, it will delay your project by a couple of hours. But oh! the humanity. You should see the mess I've made. $30 worth of scrumptious alpaca-cashmere-merino yarn and a week and a half of my precious, precious knitting time are down the drain. That horrible fez-like thing at the top of the page is the result of my hastiness. It was meant to be a jaunty, vintage-style cloche for my sister's birthday, which by the way is tomorrow. Did I mention the agony???

This actually happened the other night, but paralysis set in, and just this morning I got back on my feet, ordered some replacement yarn (an old standby, Merino Style - forget this experimental luxury baloney) and bought my sister a stand-in trinket until her specially-ordered cloche is ready. It feels good to move on, it really does.

So the moral of the story is: don't be lazy like me. Knit, measure and felt a gauge swatch before you start that felting project, unless you're using Cascade 220 for the hundredth time and know what you're getting yourself into. I used to be one of those reckless felters, but I've learned my lesson, oh have I ever.

Monday, January 18, 2010

creative turmoil

In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Believe it or not, there were many then who asked why he won, when he hadn't accomplished his goal yet. The National Voting Rights Act had not yet been passed, and racial segregation and intimidation was still rampant in the United States, especially in the South.

King raised this point himself in his acceptance speech:

"I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs, and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered. I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

"Therefore, I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle, and to a movement which has not yet won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize. After contemplation, I conclude that this award, which I receive on behalf of that movement, is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression."

Looking back, it seems to me that the Nobel Prize committee was not only affirming the rightness of Dr. King's nonviolent approach, but lifting up a beacon of hope for oppressed peoples around the world. I think they also saw an opportunity to provide Dr. King and his movement with a huge dose of encouragement and validation before their nation, and before the world, that could help bring about the change for which they were marching.

In this speech, Dr. King speaks of living in a dark and uncertain time, and of his fervent belief that the struggle is one full of hope: "When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born."

There is so much darkness and uncertainty in our world, and so many nay-sayers who criticize and find fault with those who speak of hope and put their stock in the future rather than grabbing what they can get in the present. I love this speech because of the way Dr. King uses the international forum to brush the critics aside, and to confer the honor of the moment not to his own movement, but to the "humble children of God" who are "willing to suffer for righteousness' sake."

I hope that you are celebrating this national day of service today. Take a moment to read Dr. King's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, and hopefully to find a new spirit of hope in these dark and uncertain days.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

oriole family nest


For Christmas I made the Little Pea a toy orioles' nest with a family of orioles inside.

She likes to touch and squeeze them, especially the bright orange Papa Oriole. I think as she gets older she'll enjoy taking them out of the nest and putting them back in, over and over.

The inspiration for this toy was the Charley Harper silk screen of an oriole clinging to his nest in the wind. My first thought was how much the nest resembles a felted purse. His bold, 2-dimensional birds made me decide to use craft felt for the birds themselves, and sew a relatively 2-dimensional toy bird that was still soft and fun to clutch.


At first I had planned to make a bird house with lots of different kinds of birds inside, but as I started the planning I realized that I didn't want the Little Pea to think that an owl and a sparrow might live together harmoniously in the same house, so I opted for a bit more realism instead.

The nest and birds are all life-sized (more or less), and I tried to make the nest resemble what orioles really make, which is a shaggy pouch that incorporates whatever materials they can find nearby, and usually has some soft fluffy stuff near the bottom to insulate and cushion the eggs (and then the babies when they hatch).

It was a lot of fun to make, and I've decided that this was the prototype for more bird families to come. Next time I'm going to use felted sweater bits and needle-felting for the birds. As much as I like the poppy, paperlike quality of the craft felt, it's not a great material to work with, and I'm more comfortable working with wool. Besides, I'm not sure what kind of dye is used on craft felt, and my kid is sticking this thing in her mouth quite a bit.


Stay tuned for more hatchlings as spring approaches!

Friday, January 01, 2010

slowing down

winter sky 2

The past year has been a wonderful one for me, but at the same time, the last three months since I went back to work have been incredibly stressful. I have spent most of the days exhausted, constantly apologizing to the people I love the most for being so grouchy, so irrational, so irritable all the time.

I know that this is all normal. This is life for a working mother. I know that it's supposed to get better with time. But throughout the fall as I got deeper and deeper into it, my heart began screaming at me that this is not the life I want. We didn't have a child so that we could turn her over to someone else to raise for us. I missed her so desperately, and I especially missed something I am just beginning to understand: mothering. So in 2010 that won't be my life anymore. I am going to slow down - way down.

The experiment starts next week. I am going to be a part-time worker. And I'll have four wonderful days a week at home with the Little Pea. We have found an amazing nanny for the other days, and my mom is also going to take on some child care.

I don't kid myself that starting next week, I'll get back all the time I miss so much for knitting yoga, meditation, reading, writing, designing and having lots of grown-up time alone with HWWLLB. But maybe I'll get just a little of that back, and boy will I be grateful for whatever moments I do get.

Mostly what I'll get is to be with our little girl more than I'm at work. She'll get to be with me more than with child care providers. Maybe I'll be the one who hears her say "mama" for the first time.

The challenge is going to be staying slowed down. Resisting the urge to cram twice as many chores, projects and commitments into my life since I'm technically working less.

I know that a lot of you have been through all this, and made lots of different decisions for yourself and your families, and I respect all of you and your choices very much. I am so curious about how other moms and dads have been able to resist the busy-ness in order to just be with your children and be their mom (or dad). Do you take them along and integrate them into your work or projects? Do you carve out sacred time with them when nothing else is allowed to interrupt? Do you just wing it and hope for the best?

In the end, I guess what I need to slow down for the most is to find out who I am now. I know that I'm not the same person I was a year ago at this time. I can see that there are lots of things I have taken on - but what I really wonder about is what do I have to just let go of, and leave behind?